Amazon VP quits over firing of whistleblowers

Tim Bray:

May 1st was my last day as a VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services, after five years and five months of rewarding fun. I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19. [...]

At the end of the day, the big problem isn't the specifics of Covid-19 response. It's that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential. Only that's not just Amazon, it's how 21st-century capitalism is done.

Amazon is exceptionally well-managed and has demonstrated great skill at spotting opportunities and building repeatable processes for exploiting them. It has a corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power. If we don't like certain things Amazon is doing, we need to put legal guardrails in place to stop those things. We don't need to invent anything new; a combination of antitrust and living-wage and worker-empowerment legislation, rigorously enforced, offers a clear path forward. [...]

Firing whistleblowers isn't just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It's evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.

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24 Responses:

  1. Tha_14 says:

    Think Mr. Bray will be found dead with a questionable cause anytime soon?

    • margaret says:

      like death by defenestration? (ps - i love that we have the word "defenestration" in english. often i think "why do we have this word?" and then there are days like this.)

      • Tha_14 says:

        Damn, I am not looking at news because of all these. Also, that is one ancient and cool word I didn't know about.

      • NIbby says:

        of which there is some history in Seattle:

        "My only hope in life was to improve the condition of an unfair economic system that held no promise to those that all the wealth of even a decent chance to survive let alone live."

        - Marion Zioncheck, democratic congressperson, dead by (quite possibly non-voluntary) defenestration

      • David Konerding says:

        We have the Germans to thank for defenestration (like every student of german I point this out to, they say "oh yeah, fenster is german for window").

        • I always assumed it was the French, since "fenetre" (as in "lecha la fenetre") means window in French. It's a very slightly closer match to how "defenestration" is written and pronounced?

          I wonder where the word "window" even came from, since it's similar to neither fenetre nor fenster. Odd since most of the most common words in English come from either French or German.

          • k3ninho says:

            Italian (finestra), Dutch (venster), French and German share this root. Danish (vindue) and Norwegian (vindu) shows the path the word might have taken during the viking raiding and settlement that lent the north coast of France both Normans and Normandy. Of course, there's an outlier in Swedish (fönster).


              • Marijane White says:

                As for the meaning, I remember reading as a child that it comes from the phrase "wind eyes" and indeed Google confirms:

                Middle English: from Old Norse vindauga, from vindr ‘wind’ + auga ‘eye’.

                (And I think to myself, "Oh yeah, auge is German for eye")

            • David Konerding says:

              Interesting, didn't realize this was also through French and Italian. Thanks for the educated correction.

          • Elusis says:

            English takes many of its verbs from Romance languages but many of its nouns from Germanic ones. (Where the hell they got the adverbs, I don't know). There's also a divide between the source of our animal words (e.g. "cow") and their meat ("beef"). Blah blah insert obligatory James Nicoll quote here blah.

            • Jai says:

              And that divide is largely class based, depending on who was shovelling the shit and who was eating the meat.

          • jwz says:

            Oh come on, like everything else, it's Latin. Don't you have a supercomputer in your pocket?

            • Honestly? I could have looked it up but I assumed the answer would be long winded, dry and boring. The nice reply I got from k3ninho was much more pleasant and interesting ♥️ (than the expected value of pleasantness of articles found near the top of search engine results, given the prevalence of awful content farms from seo crappers.)

            • Nick Lamb says:

              New Latin.

              An actual Roman would probably not recognize what's going on in that derivation, but the Defenestrations of Prague took place in a period when the sort of person who would prefer to think of throwing people out of a window as a political gesture (especially if they survive) rather than "just" attempted murder liked to coin Latin phrases.

              In Prague of course even if the people thrown out of a window had not survived it was part of the point to explicitly assert that you threw them out, you were rejecting their authority - whereas today usually the claim is that a person said to have thrown themselves out was in fact secretly pushed, and often by or on behalf of authorities.

  2. Glaurung says:

    So every other damn thing Amazon has been doing to destroy its workers health and well being over the past two decades was no big deal but now this guy thinks it's a step too far and he has to quit?

    Where was his conscience for those first five years and five months? In suspended animation in a jar on his desk?

    • Aww, there it is, guy does the right thing but didn't "do it right". Cool cool.

    • greay says:

      I’m sure he’ll tell us all about where his conscience was these past 5 years in his TED Talk.

      This story is so familiar by now that there’s a name for it: the prodigal techbro

    • Karellen says:

      At least he's doing better than all the other VPs who haven't quit yet.

      Sure, it's a low bar to clear. But if people don't offer encouragement and "good boy" head pats to execs who do eventually grow a conscience, what incentive is that to execs at other billion-dollar corporations to do likewise? If we're going to hate and ostracize them forever anyway, why wouldn't they keep smothering their stunted proto-consciences and go on raking in those big fat bonus cheques?

    • MattyJ says:

      It's easy for someone buried down in the AWS lab to not generally be aware of what's going on elsewhere in the company. It took something like COVID-19 to bring that to the forefront, so I'm not faulting this guy.

      I've worked for companies that had shitty skeletons in their closet I didn't know about until well into my employment, and much smaller companies at that. And by the way, you all are doing the same.

      I'd be curious to know who in this thread has cancelled their Amazon account, and how long ago that happened. What was the thing that made you say 'enough'? Oh? What was that? You were going to do that as soon as you finish binging Mrs. Maisel?

    • tfb says:

      I'm sure their conscience was in the same cryogenic-storage facility as those of all of the many thousands of people who work for googlebook (but, you know, not in the bad bits of them); the same one as all the republican party members & politicians who didn't want the orange shitgibbon but now, somehow are supporting him; the same one as every american who understands global warming is going to kill most of their grandchildren but still drives some bloated SUV because it's just so convenient and someone else is going to solve the problem, right; the same one as someone who used to work on climate change but still lives in a house with a Rayburn (look it up) because it's just so convenient. The same one we all use: it's a big facility, it's probably run by some company Musk owns.

      And if, every time one of those people withdraws their conscience from storage, defrosts it & quits their job to actually try and do some fucking good they are subject to a torrent of abuse from people – people, by the way, whose consciences are almost certainly still in the facility, because almost everyone's is – then no-one is ever going to do that, and we're all fucked.

      So, well done for making things that little bit worse.

      • dcapacitor says:

        It's a large buffalo herd running towards a cliff... the ones at the front see the edge, but are afraid to stop because they'd be trampled underfoot; the ones at the back won't stop because they can't see the edge.

  3. Pinback says:

    Can we get a ten minute or so excerpt of THX 1138 with composited in scene-correct Amazon logos?

  4. Thomas Lord says:

    "Only that's not just Amazon, it's how 21st-century capitalism is done."

    Haha. That guy is in for a real shock if he ever opens a history book.

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